The Role of Space in Effective Education

Talk about “education” and you strike an emotional chord with just about everyone. Few dispute the value of a good education — to the student, business and industry, the community, and the nation as a whole. Talk about the “spaces” where learning takes place and the feeling is very different. Few have an understanding of the impact spaces can have on learning. They have a preconceived notion that space doesn’t matter — but they are wrong.

Much research has been done on different teaching and learning styles and their effectiveness. In the past, lecture and reading were the teaching style of choice — student retention rates averaging five to 10 percent. Classrooms were static; teachers standing in front of long rows of neatly arranged desks. The current focus is on learner-centered education. The emphasis is no longer on memorizing facts, but on mastering concepts and applying this knowledge in the real world. Teaching has become cooperative, collaborative, and interdisciplinary. Learning has become active, creative, and exploratory. This new-style learning cannot take place in old-style static spaces with rows of desks bolted to the floor. An effective teaching and learning environment is a flexible space; has flexible (and oftentimes mobile) furnishings; is equipped with the appropriate technologies; and is safe, comfortable, healthy, and clean. 

Here are some important points to consider… Flexibility of space means teachers can vary instructional methods to accommodate different learning styles. Flexible furnishings allow those spaces to be reconfigured from rows for test taking, to small groups for team projects, to circles for discussion, encouraging engagement. Powerful networks, affordable speed and power, and anytime, anywhere capacity are transforming today’s classrooms into technology-intensive learning environments — environments expected by today’s connected student. The condition of the space matters as well. Studies show links between student achievement and building quality; attendance and environmental conditions (such as indoor air quality); school safety and fear, avoidance, and disruptions to the educational process; daylighting and test scores; classrooms/residence halls and student recruitment and retention; working conditions and teacher satisfaction; building condition; and the perceived value we place on students and education.

There is no debating. Space DOES play a major role in an effective education.